We spoke to the firm’s UK-based chief science officer, Dr Sam Decombel, ahead of her presentation at the NutraIngredients and European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) sports nutrition conference (#SNC16) on November 28 in Frankfurt the day before HiE.
There are a few staple nutrients in sports nutrition like caffeine, protein, creatine, carbs variously used for power, endurance, energy, recovery – how would genetic mapping shift this?
“These staple nutrients will still be important, but, in many cases, now we can more accurately predict exactly how much you should take, and when to take it, for optimum performance.
“In addition, there may be nutrients that are particularly key for you as an individual, that are less important to another, such as vitamin D or folate, or that you should indeed avoid or limit, such as lactose-containing supplements.”
Is there really enough genetic variety?
“There is an almost infinite amount of genetic variety, and this is actually part of the problem in working out which variants are most important in our studies. We each have around three billion base pairs of DNA, and with human diversity estimated to be in the region of 0.4%, that is over 12 million base pairs that can differ between individuals.
“We select the genetic variants that we believe to be most important to our modelling from the peer-reviewed research, which our experienced team of PhD scientists analyse daily.”
Does it open the door to new substances in sports nutrition?
“Potentially. As we begin to further understand the mechanisms behind the way particular biological systems work, it may answer questions as to why some people respond better to certain nutrients, and suggest alternatives that could work better for others.”
How is result accuracy guaranteed?
“We only work with experienced and certified lab partners to deliver customer results. Our lab is accredited to international quality standards including ISO 17025 for laboratory testing and calibration services and ILAC G19 for forensic activities.”
What kind of reaction have you had from pro athletes and pro teams?
“The professional athletes and teams we have worked with have been very enthusiastic. Pros traditionally learn what works best for them through experience i.e. trial and error, and there is nothing more fascinating to them than understanding why that is on a scientific level. Many of those we have worked with have adapted their diet and training as a result of what they have discovered about themselves, and seen noticeable improvements as a result. We feature several on the FitnessGenes blog.”
What about the health and fitness community?
“Those we have communicated with have embraced the scientific advances that affordable direct-to-consumer genetic testing has enabled. We run an affiliate program for personal trainers (PTs) and work with, or are in talks with, a number of high profile fitness centres worldwide that offer our products to clients. The PTs we work with realise the benefits that understanding more about their client brings. A client who is achieving their fitness goals is, after all, a happy client!”
Who is your main competitor?
“We actually don't have a main competitor in this space at present as no one else is approaching the issue of applying genetic information to training and diet for the general population in the way that we are.
“There are many DNA testing companies of course but too many focus simply on just a small number of genetic variants without any consideration of the external factors - that we call 'environmental factors' - that impact how those genes are actually being expressed, such as age or body composition. You can't tell your age or current body composition from your DNA.
“We have now patent-protected our unique approach to translating this combination of genes and environment. As leaders in this field who have put a strong focus on the scientific validity of our product – working with academia, publishing scientific papers and successfully applying for government grants in the process – we actually have a concern that not enough is being done to prevent unethical companies taking advantage of this emerging market.”
Who is buying the kits?
“We have a very varied demographic as a result of the wide appeal our product has – just about everyone is interested in how to lose fat and/or build muscle. Interestingly we have seen a significant increase in the number of females purchasing a FitnessGenes kit recently, as our branding and message has adapted to be suitable for the wider fitness market.”
Dr Decombel will speak at the NutraIngredients-ESSNA sports nutrition conference in Frankfurt on November 28.
More information here.